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Why Do Most Countries Drive on the Right Side of the Road?

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Why do we drive on the right-hand side?

Why do we drive on the right-hand side?

Why Is Right-Hand Driving Right?

Research says that almost two-thirds to three-quarters of the world drive on the right, while only one-third to a quarter of the world drive on the left. Also, it is mostly the British colonies that drive on the left. This is quite surprising, but they have valid reasons for driving on the left-hand side of the road.

In my research, I found that:

  • 66.1% of the world’s people live in right-hand traffic countries
  • 33.9% of the world’s people live in left-hand traffic countries
  • 72% of the world’s road distance carries traffic on the right
  • 28% of the world’s road distance carries traffic on the left
Red marks the countries with right-hand traffic and blue marks the countries with left-hand traffic

Red marks the countries with right-hand traffic and blue marks the countries with left-hand traffic

Why Do We Drive On The Right in the U.S?

During the early days, almost everybody traveled on the left side of the road. People found it easier. It's just how things were. A vast majority of people were right-handed. Swordsmen preferred to keep to the left so that they could use their right arm to defend themselves. It also allowed them to wear the sheath for a sword, dagger, or bayonet (also called the scabbard), on their left arm. That way it wouldn't hit other people they pass by. It was also easier for them to mount the horses from the left rather than from the right, that way they had to ride the horses on the left-hand side of the road.

Later on, in the late 1700s, France and US started using wagons to transport farm products. The wagons were driven by several horses. In order to keep control of the team, the driver sat on the horse which was to the left, rear side of the group, so he could use his right arm to handle the group. In order for him to keep an eye on the road and maintain the position for oncoming vehicles, the wagons had to be driven on the right-hand side of the road. Also according to history, the French revolution that took place in 1789 had a huge impact on right hand driving in Europe (aristocrats driving on the left wanted to be on the same level as the peasants who were driving on the right), and in 1794, right-hand driving was made a rule in Paris and a year before that in 1793 in Denmark too.

Britain, however, did not follow right-hand driving, and in 1835 left-hand driving was made mandatory in Britain. Also, countries that were part of the British empire followed left-hand driving, which includes India, Australasia, and the former British colonies in Africa (Egypt is an exception).

Japan, which was not part of the British Empire, also drives on the left, for reasons dating back to the Edo period in history.

Years before when the English had colonized North America, the colonies drove on the left following the English customs. After independence from the British, they moved to right-hand driving. Right hand driving law was passed for the drivers first in Pennsylvania in 1792 and then later in New York in 1804 and New Jersey in 1813. Canada started right-hand driving only after the Second World War.

The power of driving right grew up as most European countries started driving on the right. American cars were designed to be driven on the right. Many countries imported American cars due to their reliability and being economical. As a result of this, those countries that imported American cars had to maintain right-hand driving because of the design.

Why the British Drive on the Left?

Great Britain also considered changing to right-hand driving in the 1960s, but taking into account the expenses to change everything which would cost billions of pounds, the then Government used its power to stop Britain from going to right-hand driving. Today only four European countries drive left, while the rest drive right.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.